Saturday 20 March 2010

I'm not dead yet....

... but when I am, who's going to sort all this stuff out?

You're a writer. Most of the famous writers are dead. You may never be famous, but you will eventually be dead. When you are dead, there will be lots of detritus. Some of it will be money, furniture, house, grieving relatives - the sort of thing everyone has. The grieving relatives are not really your responsibility (if you think they are, you can leave them stuff, or make them beneficiaries of an insurance policy). The objects you can dispose of in your will, like everyone else.

But then there's the writerly stuff. Writers need to appoint someone who will sort out their writing and IPR. You want someone in charge - possibly your agent, possibly someone else - who knows what they are doing. If you want your unpublished works destroyed, the royalties from your existing work to go to the home for disadvantaged armadillos and that revenge biography serialised in The Times, someone has to sort it out. Book Maven suggests setting up a literary trust is better than having a literary executor. [Note: this para has changed following Book Maven's advice in the comments!]

Fine - all sorted and you can die now? No. Unless you have been hiding under an analogue stone for the last ten years (and you haven't, or you wouldn't be reading this) you need to sort out the non-stuff stuff - your virtual presence. You need a digital executor as well. Your digital executor will memorialise your Facebook page, close your twitter account (with a final tweet saying you are dead, if that's what you want), formally end your blogs and cease access to all your accounts. They will renew or give up your domain name when it comes up for renewal, reply suitably to your incoming email and update your Wikipedia account with your death date.

Obviously you will need to give your executor all your passwords. The best way to do this is to encrypt a file with everything in and keep it somewhere secret (and a backup, obviously). The executor has the password to unencrypt the file; someone else - maybe your solicitor, your agent - knows where the file is. That avoids the possibility of your disenchanted digital executor 'killing' you when you are still alive because you have stopped loving them, written a scathing review of their book or slept with their partner.

So get a literary executor and a digital executor. I can't say you'll be glad you did, because you won't -you'll be mouldering away while they try to sort it all out. But you can be reasssured that no-one will be updating your twitter account after your death and reporting on your state of decay/incineration - unless you told them to.

PS You can't memorialise your own Facebook account if you are considering suicide. You need a death certificate.


  1. Good advice, but the idea of a dying tweet does make me laugh. Maybe appropriate though: -

    The silver Swan, who living had no Note,
    When Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
    Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
    Thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
    "Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
    "More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise."

  2. now that's forward thinking!

    and here's a link to how to memorialize a facebook account

  3. Fascinating and scary stuff. I'm moving house at the moment so I can't die yet - can I postpone, please? (Appointing a lit exec, I mean, not dying. Well, come to think of it, dying as well.) No doubt this will all be something we just don't think about till it's too late.

  4. There are really people planning to send dying tweets...?

  5. No, no, no! You must absolutely NOT have a Literary Executor! It will delay probate. I have the advice from SoA and the solicitor who did our will somewhere. I've set up a Literary Trust with Stevie and the girls as trustees.

    But they have no instructions to send Dying Tweet!

  6. Mary, that's interesting. Do you know where there is info on setting up a literary trust? My only trustee now cd be BB, I guess. Is that allowed?

  7. I've changed the post to kill off the literary executor :-)